Refugees find healing through football

For refugees and street families in Eastleigh, Nairobi, the local football team gives hope of a better future and a free space to improve their social and psychological well-being. But they need financial muscle to keep playing.

As much of the world have their eyes locked on the Euro 2020 and the Copa America, we are reminded that football can be much more than just a game.

In the Eastleigh area of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, the US ACLI Football Club offers a way to heal, develop and grow for people fleeing conflict or persecution. The club, which was formerly known as Boresha Maisha Football team, was formed in 2017 targeting urban refugees and street families living in Nairobi, with an initial plan of offering vocational training and language classes.

Great aspirations against all odds

Most of the football players are refugees from Ethiopia and Somalia with a blend of street families from Kenya. Playing football at US ACLI has been a safe haven for them and given them an opportunity to open up and discuss salient issues that affect many refugees in the country.

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They practice three times a week and engage in tournaments and friendly matches with other teams in the area. Football has indeed brought them together and cultivated friendships free of discrimination and stigma.  

In March 2020, the team was registered in the Nairobi West Sub County League, the lowest tier of the Kenyan football league. But the players hope to one day play in the Kenyan Premier League as professional footballers.

Financial hardships despite high ambitions

In 2020, DRC Kenya donated a collection of sportswear and balls to US ACLI. The funds for the donation were raised during the 2020 “Danmarks Indsamling” – a yearly televised fundraiser organized by the Danish Broadcasting Company and 12 humanitarian organisations in Denmark including DRC. The donation ensured that children in Eastleigh could engage in recreational activities like football to improve their social and psychological well-being.

However, despite the high ambitions among the US ACLI players, the players lack the financial capacity to support their everyday expenses in the field and at home.

“Playing in the league is very demanding. We still lack the financial muscle to keep playing, but we are hopeful things will get better. We now have the uniforms and balls, and we hope to get more support to continue playing the game we love,” the team’s coach, Mr David, says.

For the budding footballers, the game is not just a way to exercise and have fun, but also a chance to achieve their career ambitions of playing football internationally. They are hopeful that with time, they will be able to play football full time and benefit from it financially.

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